Mary Wollstonecraft: On the educ. of daughters and A Vindication of the Rights of Women

Long before I gained clarity about my sexuality my models for strong females came from eighties television shows including Julia Sugarbaker from Designing Women and Dorothy Zbornak from Golden Girls. My dispositions, ways of being, and understandings of “men” were, I realize, informed by these fictional characters.

Halfway through the Rights of Women I recalled the following scene:
Julia: I love men, I love this one, but I cannot ignore history. History has shown that in general it has been the men who have done the raping and the robbing and the killing and the war mongering. And for the last 2000 years, it has been the men who have done the pillaging and the beheading and the subjecting of whole races into slavery. It has been the men who have done the law making and the money making and most of the mischief making. So if the world isn’t quite what you had in mind, you have only yourselves to thank!!

Designing Women, Reservations for Eight [2.22] (1987)

Having now completed these paragraphs for two months, I expected my topic to emerge as it had previously with the texts. Sure there are many ideas, but one always rises to the top. For Wollstonecraft I had my pick of coeducation, the need for public schools, the hinting at a blend of homeschooling and public schooling, her thoughts on morality, dress and school uniforms, her comparison to and critique of Rousseau. However, these were too limiting. I felt pulled back to the intersection of “human nature” and our hunches regarding gender and sex. What troubles me specifically is the universalization of these concepts, which then get tied into completely erroneous explanations of causality, and then, through some sort of metamorphosis, become beliefs and values (or human “nature”) that structure what is possible in our everyday lives.

What would remain if we loosened the tool of gender (male/female/other) from our thinking? How does approaching the project of education with the gender tool limit what we think and do? In what ways does the tool benefit our understanding? If we were to lay the tool aside, what would remain?

A more recent and satirical reflection on how women are understood may make the point better:
Leslie: [jumpcuts between statements] Um, I let my emotions get the best of me. … I just, I cared too much, I guess. … I was thinking with my lady-parts. … I was walking and I felt something icky. … I thought there was gonna be chocolate. … I don't even remember. … I'm wearing a new, um, bra and it closes in the front and it popped-open and it threw me off. … All I wanna do is have babies!. … Are you single? … I'm just, like, going through a thing right now. … I guess when my life is incomplete I wanna shoot someone. … This would not happen if I had a penis! … [While putting on lipstick] What? … Bitches be crazy. … I'm good at tolerating pain, I'm bad at math, and I'm stupid.

Parks and Recreation, Hunting Trip [2.10] (2010)

I have come to the end of this writing knowing less than when I started. In naming and situating the education of women front-and-center, Mary Wollstonecraft was revolutionary. It is disconcerting that we’re still not all the way “there”. What I wonder is if the there might not exist where we think it does.

EDUC 901 - Mary Wollstonecraft: On the educ. of daughters and A Vindication of the Rights of Women


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